have lived in the same street next to the same people for 7 years
now and in 6 weeks we move out to begin the process of planting a
missional community in a new development. It was a great time of
ministry here in
Lesmurdie and we saw a whole bunch of young people come to know
Jesus, but I have a few things to get off my chest.
Last week I met my neighbour who lives on our right for the first
time. We shook hands and introduced ourselves – both of us somewhat
embarrassed. I hadn’t been avoiding him, but for some reason in the
seven years we were living here our paths never crossed. I had met
his wife, spoken with her numerous times, but John and I had never
said as much as a “g’day”.
Does that seem just a little odd to you?
neighbours on the left are two very pleasant people both in their
late 50’s and we have had a very cordial relationship with them.
When we are on holidays they bring in our newspapers and collect our
mail. They give us the excess eggs their hens have laid and I feed
those same hens when they go away on vacation. I have helped Toni
jumpstart her car and Rob has kindly trimmed overhanging trees that
technically might have been our responsibility. We have never
disagreed over anything and if there has been a problem (our dog
barking) they have politely spoken to us about it and we have made
sure we have fixed the problem. All very neighbourly don’t you
think? All very amenable. Isn’t that what neighbours are supposed to
There’s just one problem… we don’t know them. I mean that. I
couldn’t tell you anything about their lives beyond their employment
and I’m even a bit shaky on that! We have never been inside each
others home, we have never shared a meal together. We have dragged
each others bins in, waved warmly as we have left for work but the
fact remains… we just plain don’t know each other – after 7 years.
How can that be?…
Over the last few months we have also been selling our home and in
that process we met a youngish family who live 6 houses away just
around the corner. They were checking our place out with her parents
who were considering moving up this way. As I spoke with them I
asked them how they, as a younger couple were settling into a
predominantly baby boomer area.
what kind of area?” they asked somewhat bemused. “Since we’ve been
here we have met 4 other young families just like us who live in the
same street and we catch up every few weeks for dinner or just to
hang out. We’ve got heaps of friends. Its been great! ”
Question… how come I didn’t know that? How come I have lived in this
area for 7 years, within 100m of these families and never met any of
them? And perhaps even more confronting is the question; what if I
had met them? Would we be friends now, or would my busy church
centred life of the last 7 years have prevented me from anything but
the occasional wave as I drove past?
From there it actually gets worse… but I think you get the picture.
– its not that I’m an unfriendly guy! It not that I don’t value
connecting with people in my community… I think?… But the raw
evidence of my life seems to say otherwise.
can you live in the same secluded street, of just six houses for 7
years and never get below the surface with one single person? How
can you live in the same street for 7 years and never actually speak
to some of your neighbours?
What is happening there?
this time between churches I have intentionally put down my
Christian books and picked up some novels. Recently I read Hugh
Mackay's latest novel
Winter Close a story of life and
relationships in one suburban Sydney street. Mackay is a well known
Australian social commentator and many of his research insights seep
through into his novels.
started reading this one in particular because I reckoned I might
glean more of what it means to live in Aussie suburbs – or any
suburbs for that matter – and as a church planter I might be better
equipped. I wasn’t disappointed.
these on for size and see if you can identify with what he says…
Rich is fond of saying that the thing about Winter Close is that it
fosters a real sense of community. That's a big claim and I wish I
could share Rich's confidence in making it. Now that Sydney has
grown to four million, communities are hard to come by: a common
complaint among Sydneysiders is that 'we don't know our neighbours'
- as if that's the neighbours fault. I've given up saying 'why don't
you knock on their door and introduce yourself?' The puzzled looks I
receive make it clear I have missed the point: plenty of people
like not knowing their
neighbours and only pretend to complain about it. Suburbia offers
the wonderful cloak of anonymity for those who want the security of
proximity without any of the demands of intimacy P.10
Ouch! Could that be me? And then on a similar theme the main
character, Rich, is reflecting on his own relationships:
contract between neighbours is based on
resistance to intimacy,
so a quite different kind of closeness becomes possible: easy open,
comfortable, but devoid of any ultimate responsibility or any
glimpses into each other's souls. These are adjacent lives -
sometimes even parallel lives - rather than shared lives. We
compensate for our physical proximity by keeping our emotional
distance. These are not like relationships between friends, or even
between people who work closely together - I know Maddy better than
I know Rich, Abel, or Mrs Spenser, or Joe Riley. Perhaps the thing
suburban life offers us is the possibility of living the life of a
herd without the bonds of a tribe: proximity, familiarity, trust,
support... but not intimacy. When we cross that line we cease to be
neighbours and become something else P.156
What's it all mean? I feel like God has been using Mackay's novel to
challenge me to consider what it means to be a 'neighbour' and is
asking whether I am satisfied with the unwritten rules of
neighbourlyness – the comfortable distance we seem to keep from each
other – the parallel lives that rarely intersect in meaningful ways.
I am reminded of Jerry Maguire – ‘good at friendship but bad at
intimacy'. I often feel like him. Yet I sense that I need more
gutsy, earthy relationships and that the people in my street may
secretly want that too.
'the word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood' (John 1:14
Message) would he look for the 'security of proximity without any of
the demands of intimacy'?… Would he keep his emotional distance or
would he seek to re-negotiate the ‘contract’ that seems to exist
know I can't change my neighbours – but I'm willing to give God a
shot at changing me into someone who is willing to get a bit more
involved in the lives of those I live near to. I am willing to spend
less time consumed with church life and activity and more just being
with the people I am living amongst. As we move out to plant a new
church I believe I need to do this one simple thing if I am to take
seriously Jesus’ call to incarnational mission.
one of his other non-fiction books
Turning Point Mackay says
Australians (and probably westerners in general) are longing for a
‘village’ lifestyle – for an ideal community where people are valued
and where real relationships take the place of busy independence.
Creating the village has less to do with where we live and more to
do with how we live. Moving to a country town won’t make us more
loving people. However – choosing to love and value relationships
can create a village within a city. We can find what we desire, but
paradoxically only as we choose to give love. P.66
know I am not alone in this confession. Many of us have been good at
running churches or organising ministries but not so good at loving
I have a feeling if we as followers of Jesus can’t lead the way with
this one then whatever else we have to offer is going to seem just a